AutoLink stir debate
A Google Inc. tool bar feature introduced this week is rekindling a debate over who should control what appears on a Web page—the site's creator or the software used to view it.
Google introduced a feature called AutoLink in a beta of its next tool bar version. AutoLink inserts links into Web pages where an address, package tracking number, publication ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or VIN (vehicle identification number) appears in the content. In the case of the address, the links connect by default to the recently unveiled Google Maps Service . The others take users to third-party sites.
While Google billed the feature as an easier way to gather related information, some Web publishers and technology analysts were quick to criticize AutoLink. They compared it to Microsoft Corp.'s Smart Tags technology that unraveled amid widespread criticism in 2001, saying AutoLink similarly changes Web content to the potential benefit of Google.
Google executives disagreed with the comparison to Smart Tags and said that Google's feature is substantially different because Web pages remain unchanged until a user initiates the insertion of links by selecting AutoLink.
"I understand where people are drawing the analogy, but there are a few key differences," said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer Web products. "One concern from Smart Tags was that the pages presented to the user were implicitly changed from what publishers wanted to appear…Because we have this as a user-elected action, to get smart links to appear users have to click a button."